They pray to change the world

Share this:
August 6, 2002 // UPDATED 1:28 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

When Charles Lindquist introduces office receptionist Carmen Gronewold, it's not a normal introduction. "Like many people who come to us," he says, "Carmen came with a particular burden in her heart."

Gronewold's burden, he explains, is to help young Nepalese girls who are kidnapped or sold into prostitution.

The introduction is probably typical for the people who work inside a small, shabby building on Loring Park's Clifton Avenue. At first glance the office doesn't seem remarkable. More than a dozen people perform office tasks, answer phones, file, e-mail -- and pray.

Often.

"It's not unusual for us to deliberately pray a dozen times a day," said Lindquist, director of the World Mission Prayer League, a Lutheran Church organization with 5,000 members nationwide.

WMPL members don't come from any one denomination of the Lutheran Church. As Lindquist explained at the Loring Park headquarters, "We're people who function as a community within the larger (Lutheran) church structure."

Franklin Ishida, director of international communications for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, said that the ELCA-WMPL link is "kind of a covenant relationship. It's a recognized ministry to which we relate," he said.

The history

As its name states, the WMPL is a prayer league, so they pray a lot. Scheduled prayer is 10 a.m. daily and 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, and unscheduled prayer is frequent. Also a missionary organization, the WMPL is in 15 countries.

The WMPL began in 1938, when two young (and admittedly nave) Minneapolis students went on the first mission. "They knew God was sending them someplace, but didn't know where," Lindquist said.

As legend has it, these students took a train to San Francisco and went down to the docks. They met the captain of a boat chartered for Bolivia who said the students could hitch a ride with him.

"We've had a program in Bolivia for almost 65 years," Lindquist said with a laugh.

Lindquist said he hopes that story doesn't portray the WMPL as "flaky." He said the group is a bit more deliberate today about where they send their missionaries. "We encourage people to read their Bible and read their newspaper," he said.

Employees and members also pray over a giant wall-sized map in the office -- which sometimes can direct where a missionary might be sent.

However, a single person often drives the choice of location. "Most of the time, it's been because of the vision of individuals," Lindquist said.

One woman's crusade

Although the WMPL has had a presence in Nepal for 40 years, Carmen Gronewold's mission trip there was very much based on her individual calling.

"In Nepal 7,000 to 12,000 girls are kidnapped or sold into prostitution every year," Gronewold said. "The girls range from 6 years of age to their 20s. They are held captive."

The Nepalese girls are forced into brothels in India. Occasionally, police raid the brothels and the girls are returned to Nepal and placed in a social service

organization.

After visiting the Indian brothels on a previous trip, Gronewold thought God wanted her help. "When I learned about these girls, I felt God was calling me to give them love where they had never felt love," she said.

The WMPL sent her to Nepal with a small monthly stipend, housing, health insurance and a retirement savings plan (which all WMPL missionaries receive). However, Gronewold did not join the existing WMPL mission; instead, the group loaned her to the Peace Rehabilitation Center, one of the social service organizations that cares for women and girls rescued from

prostitution.

At the Peace Rehabilitation Center, Gronewold helped the many HIV-positive girls adjust to life outside a brothel, learn basic skills and attend daily devotions. The girls did not have to participate in the devotions, but they had to attend.

Convert, not just comfort?

By definition, a missionary is someone sent to another country by a church to spread its faith or do social work.

WMPL missionaries perform social work and spread their Christian faith. Historically, missionaries have been criticized for trying to change cultures through forced religion, but WMPL missionaries say their evangelism occurs through action, and they do no forcing.

"I can't make a person believe," Gronewold said. "This is a free-choice thing. I pray that by my actions they know that God loves them ... I welcome them no matter what."

Still, Gronewold said that most of the Nepalese girls (who come from a Hindu or Buddhist tradition) do embrace Christianity. Gronewold thinks that many of the girls are drawn to Christianity's beliefs in forgiveness and unconditional love, which may not be present in their original religion.

"In Christianity, we have a concept of forgiveness and a loving God. We don't have to do certain things to obtain the love of God -- he bestows it on us freely," she said.

The convert in charge

Lindquist, though the director of a Lutheran organization, is actually somewhat of a convert himself. For a time during the 1960s, he said he considered himself a Zen Buddhist.

As a young, religious hippie, he sat one day thinking about the Zen proverb that asks, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

Said Lindquist, "I remember thinking about that, and praying and meditating. Somehow, I found in Jesus two hands. I felt like I discovered a whole two-handed answer in Jesus. I began going to church. Eventually I wound up here."

Lindquist met his wife through the WMPL, and the two embarked on a nine-year mission trip to Ecuador, where they had three children.

When asked what it was like to raise children there, Lindquist replied, "It was absolutely fabulous. They're not exactly American and they're not exactly Ecuadorian. They're third-culture kids."

A four-year tour

Lindquist said that other WMPL missionaries have had kids during mission trips; others bring spouses and children; and some go alone. Whatever the circumstances, the WMPL asks their missionaries to stay for at least four years in their chosen country.

"The reason is because often people say it takes two to three years to learn another language and survive in another place," Lindquist said. "If people come back before four years, they often feel they haven't broken through to another way of life."

While living in their chosen country, missionaries often work in the same careers they would in the United States.

"There's hardly a profession or a life skill that doesn't translate into a cross-cultural service opportunity," Lindquist said.

He illustrated his point with an example of an Iowa librarian.

"She thought she might be called to some sort of cross-cultural service, but she didn't know how God would use a librarian," Lindquist said. "She showed up at my door one day, and as she sat here, I got a phone call from Bolivia saying they had a need for a librarian. Soon she had a ticket and she was traveling to Bolivia where she worked as a librarian."

Beyond working in another country, Lindquist said the missionaries "demonstrate the love of God by loving service and by talking about their faith. They're Christian people, and they're going to want to talk about their faith."

In Loring Park, reconstruction and preservation

Currently, the World Mission Prayer League is reconstructing their campus at 232 Clifton Ave. The campus has three buildings. Employees have office space in an incongruous low-rise stucco building. Missionaries and some employees are housed in an old mansion and the mansion's carriage house.

Because the carriage house and mansion are structurally in rough shape, the WMPL wanted to tear down all three buildings to make way for a single big building.

"One day (the carriage house) is going to collapse," said Charles Lindquist, WMPL director. "We want to be proactive."

However, the city-recognized neighborhood group, Citizens for a Loring Park Community, opposed the demolition because members say the 100-plus-year-old mansion is historically significant.

"It's an example of architecture from what we call the old Loring neighborhood," said CLPC president Richard Anderson. "There are, on Clifton Avenue, a number of buildings on the National Historic Register. This building still fits into that architectural theme of the street."

Lindquist said it would have been cheaper to tear down the mansion, but the WMPL deferred to the neighborhood and is now restoring it. He expects the mansion to be finished by Christmas.

Anderson said, "It was really a perfect situation of someone in the community listening to our concerns and understanding that Loring Park has really been very on top of historic preservation in the neighborhood."

As a thanks to the WMPL, CLPC contributed $12,000 from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program to help with the restoration.

The WMPL expects to eventually tear down their offices and carriage house and build 10,000 square feet of office space and two floors of apartments. The mansion will also have eight apartments for WMPL members.

However, the WMPL doesn't have the cash for the new construction -- and they don't plan to ask for it. Lindquist said there is no capital campaign underway.

"We don't ask people for money," he said.

The WMPL relies on unsolicited donations. "We have a hypothesis," Lindquist said. "First, we believe that God exists. We believe God cares. And we believe that God gets involved when God is needed."

Based on this hypothesis, the WMPL believes that if God is willing, a major benefactor will step forward.